filter out twitter trolls: red Twitter logos and a hand holding a phone

Earlier this year, I found myself inundated with abusive comments from Twitter trolls after I wrote an article about Chinese government surveillance of the country’s Uyghur minority. The tweets included disinformation, insults, and bad faith arguments. The sheer number of them was overwhelming and made me want to avoid Twitter altogether, but because I use the platform so often to stay apprised of the news, I couldn’t stay away for long.

Twitter has safety mechanisms that allow users to block, mute, and report abusive content, but this is a time-consuming process that requires reading all of the negative tweets and deciding how or whether to respond. To save time and energy, and to avoid accidentally missing important information and on-target comments, I looked for other solutions and ended up using Block Party.

The service was launched in early 2020 to help people filter out harassing comments from their Twitter feeds. You can filter tweets according to a number of criteria and have them saved in a separate folder. For instance, you might want to set aside comments from new accounts or those without a profile photo, which are more likely to be fake accounts or even bots set up to muddy discussions or intimidate legitimate users. Then you can review the tweets later, when you’re mentally prepared, or you can even enlist a friend to screen them for you.

More On Security and Privacy

You don’t have to be a public figure or have a massive Twitter following to benefit from Block Party. The company's founder and CEO Tracy Chou points out that people with a low profile and just a few followers often become targets for abuse after tweeting about controversial subjects, because harassers might search for specific terms or hashtags. One or two #metoo hashtags could be all it takes to become a target.

Trolls may also respond when someone retweets a message from a larger account. For example, Chou cites “one user who responded to a New York Times tweet about ['The Umbrella Academy' actor] Elliot Page, then got a lot of transphobic replies in response.” Block Party helped filter the abusive tweets.

Signing Up

There are multiple ways to sign up for Block Party, and most are free.

  • You can get an invitation from a current user, who can either share an invite code with you directly or have Block Party send you an invitation by email.
  • You can sign up with your Twitter account. In most cases, you’ll receive immediate access. At times, though, you may get redirected to a waitlist options page.
  • If you're redirected, try selecting “request invite” on the waitlist options page. You’ll need to enter your name, email address, Twitter handle, number of followers, and where you heard about the Block Party app. This route can take a few minutes or a couple of days to get you access to the service. (If you're in urgent need of access, you can also email community@blockpartyapp.com with more information about your situation.)
  • Otherwise, you can pay $8 and get access by clicking on "sign up now" on the right side of the waitlist options page. The company says the fee is meant to discourage internet trolls from signing up and looking for ways to harass the staff or interfere with the platform. (Block Party has been the target of a lot of vitriol in some corners of the internet.)

Setting Up MFA and Filters

Block Party requires the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) through an authentication app or via SMS, to help prevent an attacker from accessing your account. Using an authentication app is the more secure option because codes sent by text message can sometimes be redirected or intercepted. I use Authy for my Block Party account.

After linking your Twitter account, Block Party allows you to set up lockout filters to decide who you want to hear from and who you want to mute. It has two main settings to choose from, with a handful of options under those headings for fine-tuning your preferences.

Under the “I’m pretty open” setting, you can create a list of people you don’t want to hear from. For example, you could exclude new accounts, people with fewer than 100 followers, and people without a profile photo, or some combination of the above. Accounts like those are more likely to be from people who have new accounts or maintain multiple accounts with fake identities specifically to harass other Twitter users.

A screenshot showing Block Party has two main settings for filtering people in your Twitter feed.
Block Party has two main settings for filtering people in your Twitter feed.

The second major option is the “I need a break” setting. Instead of filtering out specific users, it allows in only people who fall into categories you select. For instance, you may want to hear only from people you follow or people who follow those accounts. You might also choose to let through messages from Twitter-verified users or from people you’ve replied to recently.

When I first signed up for Block Party in September 2020, long before my article was published and the barrage of problematic tweets began, I used the less restrictive setting. I changed my filters to a much stricter setting once I started getting inundated, choosing to hear only from people I followed. The stricter setting caught just about all of the tweets I didn’t want to see, but it filtered out some people who had meaningful comments, too. Once things had died down, I changed back to the less restrictive setting.

Reviewing Your Lockout Folders

When you filter out tweets on Block Party, they don’t just disappear but instead end up in your Lockout Folder. When you’re ready and have the time, you can scroll through the tweets and manually unmute, block, or keep people muted. When you block or unmute accounts in your Lockout Folder, they’ll be automatically unmuted or blocked on your Twitter account, too. 

To get the terminology straight, the blocking and muting functions in Twitter sound similar, but they work differently. People you block will know you've done so if they click on your profile, but they won't be able to see any of your tweets. People you mute can see everything you tweet or retweet, but you won’t see their posts and retweets in your feed. If you’re not following them, you won’t see it if they mention or reply to you, either. Muted accounts will not know you’ve muted them and can still send you direct messages, retweet you, and quote your tweets.

Within your Lockout Folder, you can add people to a tab called “Watchlist.” You can use this if there’s a Twitter account you’d like to keep an eye on, even if you’ve muted or blocked them. This feature lets you see whether any of their tweets mention you and lets you preserve a record if you want to report harassment to Twitter or even to law enforcement. The tweets stay in the Watchlist even if they’re deleted or the account is suspended.

I had a hard time stepping away from my Lockout Folder even though it was creating additional stress. So I set up a separate browser that was logged into Twitter but not the Block Party website, and I stuck to that one during the day.

Enlisting Help From a Friend

Block Party lets you add another person to review and process tweets in your Lockout Folder. To do this, go to the “Your Helpers” section in your settings and hit the purple “add” button. You can invite this person via email, or you can get a link to share with them directly. If they don't already have an account, they'll receive an invitation to sign up.

You can choose to set their permissions to view only, add accounts on your watchlist, unmute and add accounts, or block people on your behalf. You can also leave instructions for this person. For example, you might tell them to block only people who are getting a certain amount of attention. Helpers don’t need your password, don’t have access to any of your direct messages, and can’t post on Twitter on your behalf.

A friend graciously volunteered to do this for me, and it was such a relief to share the burden: I was able to use Twitter knowing that a good person who was a bit more detached from the situation would filter through the abuse for me. When things settled down a few weeks later, I went back to reviewing my account myself.